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At the Feet of The Mother

The Grace – by Romen Palit (II)

Now I shall describe three important occasions of Ashram life.

Daily in the evening after the Mother had finished her talk with a few persons in the central Prosperity hall, she would come down and sit in the reception hall (near the gate). In front of her would be a pot of scalding soup. She would meditate for some time, then stretch out her hands and bless the soup. Then the pot would be shifted to her left. People sitting all around her in the hall would come one by one bow down to her, receive the soup in a vessel, rise and go. Then she would rise herself when everyone had finished and pass the courtyard and the narrow passage near the Samadhi (this has been demolished since) and go upstairs. On two sides of her passage people would stand with flowers in their hands and offer them when the Mother passed them. I too formed this irregular queue. Once I remember she gave me a moon-flower. This was the last darshan, after that all retired to their rooms.

The darshan-days were then three times a year. I felt a great excitement as a boy which is but natural. But this joy had no external background. Why I felt so unspeakably happy, I cannot analyse or say. The previous night I could not sleep well. I often crept downstairs (when I was in Boulangerie house) where J. and others were busy bedecking the ornate canopy of wood covered with beads, flowers and other ornaments. Under these the Mother and the Master were to sit for giving darshan to people. Early morning I would reach the meditation hall, now all covered with mats for people to sit on; a board with typed sheets stood at one corner. Here the names of persons going up for darshan was put up. And each followed his turn in the order mentioned in the list. There was no bustle, no crowding, no talk. It was an atmosphere of silence, aspiration and expectation.

The doors of upstairs were opened at 8 o’clock. And one by one we would go, offer garlands and flowers to our Master and the Mother. After bowing to each in turn some of us bowed at the throne between them, when both of them would put their palms on our heads in benediction. The Mother was all in smiles, queenly and indescribably sweet and we could feel that she was The Mother of whom the Master has spoken in his book. The Master was grand, Shiva and Krishna in one, the supreme Purusha whom the Mother has acclaimed as the Lord whose presence would transform our Night into Day.

In the afternoon, the Mother would distribute garlands (which we had offered to her in the morning). Sometimes she distributed messages as well. When I went for this garland distribution on my first visit, the Mother was distributing Sri Aurobindo’s message: “The sadhak has no personal hopes….” When I went up to her, she handed me a garland and, waving her index finger, said with a smile, “No message for you.”

The birthday was a very special occasion. Each one of us individually went to her in the same room where the three darshans took place. There she would sit on a divan, while we sat on the carpet below. She would talk to us, meditate. Sometimes she would play on the organ, even sing — which was a special privilege — this music was a message to the person concerned.

Once she told me that if I had moods that would make me more unhappy, people would shun me. On another occasion she expressed that even if I wanted to take up ordinary life I must not, on any account, marry. That was the worst possible slavery. Then she asked me if I knew what people did when people married. I nodded. I had only a faint inkling of the thing men call sex. But psychologically I was not mature enough to assess the full import of the problem.

I would narrate something which may surprise. At that period physical education was a thing unknown. In 1932 a tract of land lay vacant which is now Lakshmibai house and garden. I conceived the brilliant idea of having a badminton court. But the place was full of weeds and thorns. So I wrote to the Mother that I needed a servant urgently. The next day was the first day of the month and the Mother came down to pay the domestic servants. Suddenly the Mother turned to me and said “you will get your ‘urgent’ servant”. The place was cleaned and the few boys that were there plus one or two visiting boys gathered there to play. We had even an athletic competition where S. came first in high jump receiving an earthen dog which the Mother had sent as a prize for the event.

From my childhood I had poor health. I had fits of headaches. The Mother made arrangements for special food to be given to me: butter, eggs, ovaltine. But I was too lazy to take this. So she asked S. then Dr. N. to see that I partook of three eatables. And every day after people had finished pranam, the Mother would meet me at the staircase and ask “How was the food?” Then she would make me flex my arms. “You must become strong, my child”, she would say.

But all these, after all, did not have any lasting effect. The headaches continued. So the Mother sent me to Madras with D. I was there for a week. The Mother wrote to me very affectionate letters, encouraging me. I felt terribly lonely; I had been so much in tune with the Mother and her presence that I felt like a fish out of water.

In 1937 I was restless and in November the Mother asked me to ‘go out and see the ordinary life’. She wanted me to make a free and independent choice of life. She said that she did not want me to be like D. This person whom the Mother mentioned had begun to go out of the Ashram from 1936 and ended by leaving the Ashram altogether in 1953.

I went out. I was in Chittagong, then in Maharashtra, where the Mother sent me letters; sometimes the address too was written in her own hand. I returned two months later. The Mother enquired as to how I liked all these people and places. She had got my room freshly painted and distempered in my absence. She told me that she had got my room all cleaned and tidy. She was all smiles. I think she expected me to turn over a new leaf. But the lure of the external world was pulling. And my father, in spite of being an old associate, added to this unnatural thirst, by tempting me with prospects of sending me to England to become a member of the Indian Civil Service. I could not gauge the full import, but it was a fascination indeed.

In the meantime I left my studies and started working under Chandulal in the newly begun construction of Golconde, where I gave a good account of myself as a worker. The Mother was exceedingly pleased.

But this was not to last. The old depression, moods, the attraction of the external world returned and I succumbed to them. On the first occasion, it was almost the Mother who sent me out. The second time I myself decided to go; that was in October 1938. The Mother was not at all pleased. It was but natural. She told me that perhaps I thought that I would be happy with my father. No, that was not true. She added that I could go but I must return with the determination not to go back to ordinary life.

It was to be a brief visit. But it proved to be a long one.

Before I go into the next phase of my life, I would like to digress. The Mother gave her categorical views on people, specially those with whom I could associate freely without any harm. Some like A. who taught me Bengali metre and had declared that ‘Many are called but a few are chosen — I was to be one of the few chosen ones’ — well, about associating with him, the Mother was noncommittal. But with another person, X, the Mother definitely forbade me to have any touch. That one she declared was a vampire. And it was true, for a few moments of association with this person used to make me feel dejected and tired. But there were people with whom the Mother encouraged me to mix with, Dr. N., S. etc.

The Mother was also very definite about books and journals. I remember she forbade me from reading ‘Life’ magazine which was, she said, definitely ugly.

Once she examined cursorily my palm. She said that I had a very good heart. Also a strong determination; once I decided to do a thing, nothing could prevent me from doing it. Lastly she prophesied that from my twenty-fifth year, there would be a change for the better, which would continue. How true and accurate! Yet those associated with me had the impression that I was a truant and erratic chap, especially when I was so restless. Some even thought that I would take up ordinary life and forget all about spirituality.

In the ordinary life, which needs no mention, I passed through a bitter experience of what life consists of. The Mother, however, continued to write to me regularly up to 1939 when I was outside. She told me that she could not make up my mind for me and that it was I who had to do it. About the April Darshan which began in 1939 she wrote that it was not a darshan (in the old sense) and I could certainly come. I revisited the Ashram in 1943 and the Mother was the same affectionate mother though I had altered due to my long association with the outside world.

The Mother knew that a great change would come in my life and a blow fall. Therefore prior to my going away in 1939, she confided to me that she wept at all the troubles that visited me, my unstable condition vis-a-vis the spiritual potentiality I had. Of course these were not physical tears, nor had the grief any human origin. She wanted me to be her true child, the child of Light; but conditions barred it. Her love for me had a much deeper origin than my growing, unsteady, adolescent mind could even conceive. The fact, however, came back to me with great impact that she was not only the divine mother, she was my physical mother as well. There was a blending of the human and the divine, which far transcended the human relation of a mother for her offspring or a spiritual relation of a guru with the disciple.

A black curtain was drawn over my spiritual life for several years. But even in that total change the Mother’s aid was there, her hand of succour saved me from complete disaster and ruin. The last letter she wrote to me was in 1942.

I returned in 1946, apparently a crushed individual but with an inner urge to rise. Here again the Force of the Mother was at work.

When I went up to her (1st April 1946) and bowed down to her, the Mother exclaimed “At last!” She gave me a carnation which signified “Obedience”.

A new life opened for me. The ordinary life now had no lure, whereas this life held infinite possibilities.

Once I wrote to her that I felt tired while doing the work. The Mother wrote that it should not be so and that I must learn to take rest even while doing the work.

I met my companion and persons around began writing signed and anonymous letters to the Mother complaining of this new development. The Mother showed to me one such letter and asked “Is this true?” I replied negatively. The Mother tore away the letter and said “I have trust in you.”

I felt distressed nevertheless; I wrote to her of my conviction that everything would be well. The Mother sent back my letter with her answer on the margin. She had underlined my word and wrote that it was the voice of Truth and that I must cling to it.

Once she told me that it was not that any particular work was important. The importance was to do some work. This implied that it is not what we do that is of moment but how we do it, is of capital importance.

She had been to my room three times, each time in a new location. In 1947 I lived at the Press where she came. On entering the room she spotted the sketch of me done by her a decade earlier. Turning to Chinmoyee she remarked, “This sketch I did when Romen was a child.”

Next, she came to Remplaçant House (now renamed by her as Ashish) on my birthday where she tasted the sweets we had prepared for her. She also heard my music. That was in 1949.

In 1954 she came to my room in the band quarters on the Sports Ground.

After the Master left his body I had a unique experience which opened a new way of literary expression. I was promised aid in my poetical venture. I read out some parts of the poem to the Mother. She remarked: “I have a very strong impression that Sri Aurobindo himself is behind this.”

Some friends had remarked that the Mother did not like poetry like Sri Aurobindo. But I had my doubts. So I asked the Mother about it. She remained quiet for a while, then replied: “After all that Sri Aurobindo has done for Poetry, how can I not like it?” Forthwith, she sent some poems which I had sent to her and got them published almost without my knowledge. Had I any intention of publication I would have edited the work.

Once, on my birthday, she wrote to me: “Remember Sri Aurobindo’s promise, ‘One who chooses the Divine, has been chosen by the Divine’.” When I had written to the Mother once about her serious expression at the time of pranam, she replied that perhaps it was the Mahakali aspect of her.

She pointed out my habitual frivolousness and remarked that I must be serious and not light as I had been during the ‘Marching’ for example.

She always encouraged my study, and, in spite of my being not of an age when people normally study, she permitted me to complete the higher course, once in 1955 taking English Literature, and again in 1959 taking Sri Aurobindo’s subjects. Though the students laughed behind my back, I knew I had the Mother’s blessings. I did not, and even now do not, consider myself to be old as the horizons of my mind, life and body are still expanding. This youth is the soul of the Mother in me urging me to move forward. That is why the Mother said with a smile to me on my fiftieth birthday, “Hello! you are not growing old!”

 

(Note: The letters quoted here were written in French and translated by me. Perhaps a better translation could be made of the 200/300 letters received by me. I have quoted only from the most important and in most cases given a gist in my own words for brevity. It is possible some words or expressions are not absolutely accurate for which I may be pardoned.)

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